Monitor Local Elections & Procedures

Community Involvement is Key in Protecting Our Elections

Elections are conducted on a local level, even though governed by state and federal laws. So while the crisis in the U.S. election system is a national one, many effective solutions can be carried out locally. Community monitoring of elections can only be done on a local level. Resources on this site have been designed to help you choose the most effective projects to undertake in your community and learn how to do them.

The example you set through public education and leadership will enable others to recognize the dangers we face and join the struggle for election justice.

Monitoring an election means providing community oversight of the processes and procedures that guide OUR elections, as they are conducted by employees of OUR government.

In this era of stolen elections and violations of laws requiring elections to be conducted in a transparent manner, We the People cannot afford to sit back and assume that elections are being run in a manner that protects the accuracy and validity of the vote.

The majority of election officials and their staff members are honest, hard-working people committed to our democracy. Yet even their eyes cannot be everywhere at once. Monitoring is key in both preventing and detecting many problems that could even be serious enough to alter the outcome of an election.

Please make these three links anchor links that jump to the questions below:

What Can Monitoring Accomplish?
How Has Monitoring Been Successful?
What Can I Do to Get Started?

What Can Monitoring Accomplish?

1. Community election monitoring is a deterrent to some nefarious activity. Just the knowledge that they are being watched, especially being watched by a knowledgeable observer, can deter people from illegal activity.

2. Monitoring is a deterrent to sloppy behavior. Elections officials and poll workers will be more vigilant knowing they are being watched and their mistakes could be publicized.

3. Monitors sometimes catch errors that can be corrected immediately by elections officials. See below for a powerful example.

4. Information gathered can be used to improve future elections.

5. Monitors can make incident reports to election protection hotlines such as 1 (866) OUR-VOTE, adding their findings to thousands of comments aggregated and analyzed for patterns of election anomalies.

6. Community monitoring efforts can provide the basis for challenges to elections, including recounts initiated by the public or by candidates. Recount and challenge laws vary by state.

How Has Monitoring Been Successful?

Election monitoring has uncovered problems leading to changes in election procedures. Read about a powerful example from the 2016 California Presidential Primary election.

What Can I Do to Get Started?

Volunteer with a group organizing monitors/observers.

If they’re not active in your community, use the guide below to set up your own monitoring effort. We strongly recommend you gather a group of people to work together.

Learn about who runs the elections in your state and in your county, parish or other local jurisdiction

As an election monitor, you'll need to collect many types of information about how your local elections are conducted. It's important to begin with some understanding of the functions of election officials so you'll have a clearer idea of where to look for the information you need.

The Secretary of State (SoS) in most states is responsible for elections. Search for the website of your SoS or other statewide elections office.
• Visit your SoS website and find the fraud hotline/incident reporting. Bookmark the page. 
• Call the SoS's office and ask for the election code references on observing and monitoring.

The county (or similar jurisdiction) actually runs the elections. The head official is likely to have
one of these titles: 
• County Clerk
• County Clerk Recorder
• County clerk Recorder Registrar
• Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk
• County Auditor/Clerk/Recorder
• Registrar of Voters

Call your local elections office and ask: 
• If they have an election incident reporting system. 
• If they have a timeline of activities they are working on leading up to the election
• If they have any written guidelines on election monitoring and observation.

Find out what kind of equipment your county or jurisdiction uses to vote.

Choosing and prioritizing monitoring activities will depend on many factors, including state laws and the type of voting equipment used in your area.

What kind of voting machines will you be monitoring? Check The Verifier, a tool prepared by Call your county or jurisdiction to confirm that the information is up-to-date.

Learn Which Activities Can Be Observed  

A. Before the Election

1. Review Ballot Design

High priority. Although this isn’t technically observing – i.e., watching someone do something – it is a very important activity to do prior to an election. Ballots are designed and printed 60-90 days before an election. Printed paper ballots are sent to voters for absentee/vote by mail voting and, depending on the voting system used at the polls, may be used on election day as well. The layout could cause the ballot to be misread by an optical scanner. There are numerous other potential problems. An excellent discussion of this has been prepared by Black Box Voting. (??? Can't find it.)


2. Observe preparation and operation of tabulation devices programming, and testing medium.

This process is requires a high time commitment, very specialized person. County or jurisdiction elections officials will most likely balk at letting this be observed in any close up, meaningful manner.


3. Observe logic and accuracy testing.

Low to medium priority. The testing itself is superficial. It's a good way to look at the
machines in advance, especially if you have not been a poll worker before and don't
plan to be in November. Sometimes systems display failures in the field that should
have been caught at this step and it is good information to know. 

4. Observe absentee ballot/vote by mail processing.

Variable priority depending on percentage of votes cast in this manner. Observability is
limited. The most important thing you can see here is the chain of custody of the ballots
and see if it would be easy to misplace or lose trays of ballots. 

5. Observe poll worker training.

Medium to high priority. The security measures for the machines and how to deal with
problems should be covered here. If they are not, it is a red flag for either incompetence
or willfulness. It is also useful to see if there is a lot of propaganda in the training re. 
Paper vs. paperless voting and if there is anything taught that is an election code

B. On Election Day

1. Observe poll opening/set-up procedures.

Low to medium priority. You will most likely upset the poll workers and make them very nervous. Must be able to get up very early in the morning. If your county or jurisdiction is using new equipment for the first time, this is a time when lots of problems happen that would be good to document. 

2. Observe voting at the polls.

High priority. All of the above reasons, especially #1. Best done as a poll worker. 

3. Observe poll closing.

High priority. Here is your chance to get the fresh data on results, to see if there are reconcile problems between number of votes and number of people who signed into to vote, etc. All of the above reasons, especially #1 and very important for reconcile. Be sure to arrive no later than five minutes before the polls close, so you will be allowed inside. Bring a camera. Find out in advance what you can photograph or film, and do it. If possible, photograph the vote totals on poll tapes, the end-of-day reports, and other documentation. These can later be compared to official results.

C. After the Polls Close & After Election Day

1. If your jurisdiction posts precinct results outside polling places, as some are required to do, photograph these for later comparison to official results.

Enlist friends to go to their local polling places and do the same. You may be able to find a list of your city or town’s polling places on the website of your elections department.

2. Observe chain of custody of ballots and memory cards

High priority. This has a high deterrent effect. There are areas you might not be allowed
into to see what is going on.

3. Central Count Election Night

High priority. You need to be able to commit to stay up all night for this. First you will watch the ballots and memory cards be brought in from the polls and go to the central tabulator. If you are fortunate, you may actually be able to see the tabulator screen. Periodically, the elections official will release results so that the press and candidates know what is happening. It is important to keep these and watch carefully for sudden changes or vote totals decreasing, which they shouldn’t. It is very important to document if vendors come in to fix things or if you notice the staff getting agitated. The computers have been known to crash or have other problems. Mostly you sit around and watch computers and bathe in the anxiety of candidates and media that want to meet a news deadline. Excellent details on Election night observing can be found in the Black Box Voting 2008 Toolkit.

4. Absentee/Vote by Mail Processing

Priority depends on the percent of Vote by Mail ballots in your local jurisdiction. In
California, for example, over 50% of the votes are absentee. The main steps in the
process are signature verification, envelope opening, ballot unfolding and crucial sorting
tasks. Signature verification can be done either electronically or manually. Although
Vote by Mail election results are not be released until the polls close, state laws vary on
whether or not these ballots can be counted in advance of election day . Note: Chain of
custody cannot be observed or verified in a Vote by Mail system.

5. Provisional Ballot Processing

Medium priority. Provisional ballots are researched one by one by the elections staff. 
Some elections officials will not count the votes if there is any problem at all with the
information on the envelope or with the envelope itself. Others will do their best to
qualify as many votes as possible.

6. Rewriting of Ballots

High priority. Ballots that are determined to be unreadable by the machine due to
extraneous marks or other problems are re-written on a fresh ballot. Thousands of
ballots in just one county can be re-written. Observers, especially partisan observers, 
should watch this to confirm the accuracy of the re-write.

7. Observe Audit

High. This takes several days so there should be many people to do this and show up
randomly to check on activities. This is supposed to be our main safeguard and it is our
only chance to really see people counting votes. The DREs are particularly hard to hand
tally and #4 is an important reason for doing this. Clerks and officials may try to bypass
the law and make it easier on themselves to count. With no one watching, there is
nothing to stop him or her.

8. Reconciliation Activities

High. What is done by the elections officials and is mandatory under the law are two
different things. Not enough attention is paid here, yet this is where the rubber hits the
road. A dedicated team should be in place ready to do analysis and report results as
soon as they can. Computers and people that can handle large files and quantities of
data are needed. Also people who are good at nitpicking details.